Tuesday, October 9, 2007

SWING LOW

A couple of years ago my mom turned 80. (Come to think of it, her 83rd is coming up soon. ) She has, by the way, NEVER taken a prescription drug. She will live to see me buried, I am sure of this. But that's another matter…

Anyway, we had a big party at my brother's place, and many relatives were present. I don't actually know most of my relatives. My dad always insisted that we were a very close family, but I had to question that when I figured out I had uncles that I had never seen face to face, and have cousins my own age that I haven't seen or communicated with since I was five.

But here's what I'm getting at.

My wife is not a very "spiritual" person. She is a Unitarian. That means you don't really committ to any particular belief, although you could if you wanted to. I think she believes in some sort of god though, and her sense of ethics is way beyond reproach. Sometimes it pisses me off. When we travel, she takes all our trash back home so she can recycle it. That's just too righteous for my taste, sorry. Just leave the Pellegrino bottles in the trash please. THEY can recylce them if they are so inclined.

But I digress…

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Actually I am probably the more "spiritual" one of us, in a strange way. I was raised by an Evangelical minister, whose idea of a summer vacation for the family was to drag us all to Bible camp. Can you even begin to imagine just how much that sucks? It truly and surely reeks. It bites. It blows. You never want to go to Bible camp, even if you are a Christian. But I'm getting off topic again.

My point is that my wife has a creedless faith, and I have none, but I know a lot more about faith and creeds and spiritual pathways than she ever will. My "Damascus Road" experience, however, was not what my dad would have liked me to have. I remember the weight, the burden, the onus that suddenly left my weary shoulders and flew away the day I was first able to look at myself in the mirror and say out loud "I am not a Christian". If felt so good, I said it over and over again. "I am not a Christian, I am not a Christian, I am not a Christian".

Then I went a step farther. I realized, fully and truly, that I don' t have to believe in anything. I can if I want to, but I think that real freedom is knowing that you don't owe it to God, your dad, or yourself to commit to a belief of any sort. Frankly, I actually don't care if there is a god or not. It's just not a question that I need answered. If God exists, I would prefer he just leave me alone.

But here's what I'm leading to.

At this party, my wife was playing some music with my niece. My niece is a competent pianist, and my wife is a very fine cellist. My wife brought a bunch of music that she selected because she genuinely respects and honors my mother's Christian faith, and wanted to give her a gift of music that my mom would know and appreciate. And face it kids, there's nothing wrong with the musical quality of traditional "Negro spirituals" even if they don't resonate your own personal faith.

So the cello and piano duo start up Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. One of my brothers, who does believe, just jumped up and went over by my wife and started singing. He was just moved by the spirit to burst out in song. I was so moved by how moved he was that I went and stood next to him, singing in full voice. Then my oldest brother came and joined us. Three brothers, not much faith among them, singing as one, a song that means a lot to one of them, maybe a bit more to the oldest, and very very precious little to me.

But it was the first and only time I have ever raised my voice in song with my two brothers. And you can't buy that kind of experience. Music that just happens, in a moment unplanned, for no real reason except I am not going to miss the chance to sing with my brothers! Hell, we didn't even harmonize. We just sang in unison. And we didn't really know the words, so we just recycled the first verse.

Then we sang Amazing Grace. I hate that song, and I hate what it means. But God, please give me one more chance to sing like that with my brothers. I still won't believe, but I will give thanks.

That was a blessing, and my mom was filled with joy. Not such a bad thing for music to do to a person, or family.

1 comment:

John said...

I give thanks to Mr. Composer Head, wherever he may be, for these posts. Actually, his identity is no longer secret (his amanuensis spilled the beans), and he sure was right in his prediction regarding his mom.

But I digress. This is a particularly wonderful post, and it was very moving to hear an excerpt from it read aloud yesterday by the very same amanuensis in the very same Unitarian church to which Mr. Composer Head almost refers in his post, on the occasion of celebrating Mr. Composer Head's life. The one big flaw was that Mr. Composer Head could not attend.

Thanks again Mr. Composer Head, wherever you may be, and blessings on you.